“This is something only the two of you can do.” King Rhutgard paused and looked between the two of them thoughtfully.
Ronan’s curiosity was piqued but he was also wary now.
Then the King said, “I will be sending you to Clemongard.”
Ronan, from the corner of his eye, saw Keldrick’s eyes grow round with interest.
“Clemongard!” repeated Keldrick.
Clemongard, indeed! Misgivings immediately arose. Whatever for? Under normal circumstances, a trip west to visit a new ally would be quite the experience. But when war was sprouting in every direction….
“Yes. We have a new ally, and it is time to make her acquaintance. Since I myself am unable to meet with her, I am sending the two of you in my stead, as Ambassadors of the Eastern Shield.
“You, Keldrick, will be serving in two capacities, as my son and as an Ambassador to the Eastern Shield. You, Ronan, will be serving in two capacities as well, though one will be far more… complicated, I expect.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Ronan uttered with respect. Why could he not simply stay here with the War Council? Complicated how?
King Rhutgard said then, “The two of you will be traveling alone together, no retinue, for speed and safety’s sake. Because of the nature of your prior mission and experience, the second task I am charging you with – is to keep my son safe.”
Neither Ronan nor Keldrick said a word for a moment. But Ronan knew what the King meant. But then Keldrick let out an outburst. “Father! I am perfectly able to protect myself!”
King Rhutgard looked at Keldrick steadily. “Of your weaponry skills, I’ve no question, Keldrick. It is your ability to –” And he turned his attention to Ronan.
“Blend in with the commoners,” Ronan supplied.
“Ah. Exactly. And thus why Ronan is accompanying you, for he thinks quickly on his feet.”
Keldrick threw a bewildered glance to Ronan before he trailed off, “Blend in with the….”
Ronan could not help but draw in an enormous sigh. Why? Why him? King Rhutgard read his expression at the time and told him, “Ronan, I know you feel like I’m punishing you –”
“Punishing him? By being with me? You can’t be bloody serious,” interjected Keldrick.
And King Rhutgard knocked Keldrick behind the head.
“Father! What the hell was that for!”
He did it again. “Keldrick, stop cursing.”
Bemused, it was all Ronan could do to keep his jaw from falling open. The Eastern Shield was full of surprises these last weeks.
“Now. Across the land, you will be traveling as a Rommish lord, Ronan. While you, Keldrick,” and King Rhutgard took in a deep breath. “Will be traveling as his steward.”
For one second, Ronan was able to control himself. And Keldrick, for one second, said nothing at all. But after that, Ronan could not keep a grin from overtaking his features. Try as he might, he could not stop grinning. He wanted so badly to laugh….
“You can’t be bloody serious!”
“Ronan,” and the King gestured to Keldrick.
But Keldrick stepped out of the way. “If you try hitting me anywhere, I will break your bloody hand.”
“Tell me, Keldrick, if your steward spoke to you in such a fashion, how would you respond?” asked King Rhutgard.
“You can’t – you cannot be serious.” Keldrick amended his speech at the last moment, but then demanded, “Why can we both not simply go as Ambassadors? Or he as my steward?”
Ronan watched that famous icy glare that King Rhutgard was known for slide into place across his face and instantly, Keldrick was cowed. “I need answer none of your questions, son of mine. However, should you think to no longer act as the role I have given you, you should know that, even in the West, in the Coastals, and in the Free Lands, there will be people who will recognize a son of the Eastern Shield. But no one will recognize a servant, whether they have blue eyes or no.
“And so you will act as a servant, for servants tend to be overlooked, invisible. Until the two of you reach Queen Selby’s court, you, Keldrick, will be steward to ‘Lord Galland,’ the name that I have chosen for Ronan. You will follow the directions on the map I provide you, unless Ronan believes it necessary to change the course.
“This is a mission that requires your utmost in abilities, my son, for you will be serving as a War Time Ambassador to the Eastern Alliance. You may not like the journey, but you must learn it and perfect it nonetheless. My father told me that when I was not much younger than you, though he was speaking of life itself.
“Now. Keldrick. Ronan. Can you perform the duties of War Time Ambassador to the Eastern Alliance that I have given you?”
“Yes, Father.” The words War Time Ambassador seemed to have sobered Keldrick.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” replied Ronan quietly.
King Rhutgard then placed a firm hand on Ronan’s shoulder and told him, “If anyone can do this, I know it’s you, Ronan.”
And Ronan had looked at Keldrick, and back to King Rhutgard. “All due respect, Your Majesty, but how am I supposed to…. I mean, in enough time to, pass muster….” Ronan would have to teach Keldrick how to act like a commoner the entire way there. Until they arrived at Queen Selby’s court, when Keldrick would take over as the Ambassador to the Eastern Shield.
“You’re a very gifted young man, Ronan, you’ve lived in both worlds, and you’ll see the both of you there and back safely.”
Then King Rhutgard smiled faintly. “I knew a very stubborn prince, a very long time ago, who learned a lot in just a few days. Believe me, Ronan, when I say that if that prince could, this son of mine can.” And he had clapped a sullen Keldrick on the back.
They would be riding out this morning, Ronan as Rommish Lord Galland, and Keldrick as his steward.
They would be riding on just two horses, no carriage, no servants, so they might speed their trip and more easily report what they saw on their way there.
Ronan recalled with interest, however, the reference to another stubborn prince that King Rhutgard made and wondered who it was.
“Boys,” came King Rhutgard’s voice. He was standing there in the stable.
He looked at them both and smiled a little. Ronan had just a little time to think how perfectly dressed Rhutgard always was, nothing too lavish, nor never underdressed – never bejeweled nor perfumed like many of the lords at Court….
And then the King hugged them both. “Good will go with you both. Come back to me, safely.”